There is a key word used three times in Romans 10-11, a word that’s part prophecy, part observation, part marching orders. The word is jealous.
We almost always take jealousy to be a sin, and that’s because usually it is. While careful definitions can be used to distinguish jealously from envy, the two are related in the wanting to be in someone else’s shoes, wanting to have what they have. The desire or aspiration for something better is not always wrong, it depends on what you want and why you want it.
In Romans 10 Paul addressed why so many of his Jewish kinsmen did not confess that Jesus is Lord, and in his explanation he quoted the second half of Deuteronomy 32:21.
But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” (Romans 10:19)
In Deuteronomy God warned Israel, under the name of “Jeshurun,” that they “grew fat, stout, and sleek; then…forsook God who made” them and “scoffed at the Rock of…salvation” (32:15). They “forgot the God who gave (them) birth” (32:18). God responded in jealousy for the glory of His name. He values it so much—as He should—that He reacts when His name isn’t honored, so He was going to make them jealous. That is the first part Deuteronomy 32:21 (which Paul didn’t included in his quote).
They have made me jealous with what is no god;
they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous….
Israel gave their worship which was due to God alone to other gods, so God said that He would give blessings offered to them to other peoples. He was going to give blessings to “those who are no people,” a people the Jews looked down on, in order to cause the Jews to want the good from God they could have had in the first place.
Paul makes another stitch with the jealous thread again in the next chapter.
So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (Romans 11:11)
“Stumble” refers to their rejection of salvation in Jesus. In God’s plan, Israel’s rejection led to salvation and “riches for the world…riches for the Gentiles” (Romans 11:12). God extended His grace in forgiveness and in fruitfulness. Don’t miss the fruitfulness part; don’t limit salvation’s gains to the soul. “Riches” are blessing, good gifts from above, eternal and temporal, spiritual and physical. These riches “make Israel jealous.”
Making Jews jealous was a major motivation for Paul’s ministry.
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. (Romans 11:13–14)
Provoking jealousy was not an afterthought, it was his aim. Paul didn’t merely look back and realize an unintended consequence, he looked around for ways to increase the provocative effect. “I magnify,” the Greek word is δοξάζω, so it could be understood as “I glorify.” Salvation and blessing among the Gentiles triggered the right sort of envy in the elect in Israel. Paul maximized his blessing-bling, so to speak, to “save some” of the remnant in his day. There will be a large-scale application in the end when the fulness of Gentiles come in so that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-26).
God is blessing Gentiles believers in order to make the Jews jealous. This is a big task. It is a bigger task than just showing that we can do real good Bible studies, including the New Testament. That’s a good start, but it doesn’t end with our eyes on the pages. This is also not a different angle from which to promote the prosperity-gospel, but it should at least begin to correct a narrow and dualistic definition of “riches for the world” (again, those are God’s own words through Paul in Romans 11:12). A Kuyperian Dispensationlist has a lot to do here, and, as usual, there’s more to say.